Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What I Read on My Days Off

Lazarus Laughed. Marco Millions. The Wild Duck. The Lady From the Sea. And a lot of minstrelsy texts. I'll explain later. Oh, and I watched "Syriana," "Hairspray," and "Frankenfish."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Plays & Playwrights Link

Check out this link to the Plays & Playwrights blog at NYTE. Rochelle is great about posting upcoming productions for playwrights they have published.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Some Thoughts on Playwriting Groups

My friend Jim has returned to the Cape to work at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. We've been talking about the viability of a playwrights group at WHAT and I've posted some thoughts on his blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Even in Death, Ingmar Bergman Makes the Rest of Us Look Like a Lot of Punk Kids

Treated myself last night to the restoration of Bergman's "Monika" at the IFC. It apparently hasn't been seen much for the last 50 years, and prints weren't considered very good. I haven't seen a lot of Bergman - about a half dozen of his - what? - 4,000 films? - but the ones I've seen I see over and over. The man could make the Gristede's on 103rd St look like an Old Master painting.

"Monika" concerns two young Swedish kids - Harriet Andersson and Lars Ekborg - who run away from their dreary lives and take up on an abandoned boat. They fall in love, have a lot of sex, and then realize they don't have any food and they're getting kind of dirty living on a boat and summer is over. They move back to town, he studies engineering, she has a baby and life grinds them into dust. She turns into a selfish bitch, and he's stuck at the end living with his dad again and taking care of the kid.

So - what makes this worth watching?

Bergman - God, he was good - can take the simplest story, load it with humanity, fill every frame with life and turn loss into something that makes your heart swell, a piece of music, a naked poem about the true price of growing up. His films have a rap of being depressing, but I find them exhilarating. Even this one - for whatever reason classified as a minor work - has truth, humor, and wonder.

Plus, Andersson is a vision and Ekborg looks for all the world like Chet Baker at his moment of maximum hotness.

My charming date - who'd never seen a Bergman flick before - was into it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More "Russian Literature" - in Germany

My play "Conversations on Russian Literature" - which won Best Play in the IMCOM-Europe One-Act Festival last month in Heidelberg - will have four more performances at KMC Onstage in Kaiserslautern, Germany. I haven't gotten the times yet. Or dates. But I have a check, so it's cool.

So - if you're in Kaiserslautern and you want to see the show, ask Richard. He'll have the dates. And take him out for a beer. And give him a hug. Richard's great.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Joe, Vanessa & Karen

Saw the Joe Strummer doc on Friday night at IFC. Nice film by the guy who did "The Filth & the Fury," the excellent Sex Pistols documentary. Best part - footage of the Clash in the early eighties.

Saturday was "Vanessa" at City Opera. I don't know Barber's work, but I really enjoyed this one. Three generations of neurotic, high -strung women in a house in the wintertime in a far northern country. Cracked hymns, delusional waltzes and a fine Lauren Flanigan.

Sunday night Karen Finley at 45 Bleecker in "Wake Up." This one is still a work-in-progress, but her process is pretty fascinating to watch. Not everything works right now in this show - Finley imagining Laura Bush's dream journals and the media circling Terri Schiavo's death- but just when it feels the commentary is a little too acid-tinged New York intellectual, Finley brings it back around to the central humanity - a mother being told she can no longer feed her child. This is the second time I've seen her and I'm starting to feel about Karen Finley the same way I feel about Patti Smith - I don't even care what she's examining, I want to watch her work.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sleepy Times at Lincoln Center

Saw a very disappointing "Cymbeline" last night. Great director - Mark Lamos. Great cast - John Cullum, Martha Plimpton, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Cerveris, Jonathan Cake. Great play. "Cymbeline" is maybe my favorite Shakespeare. So - what happened?

I've seen Lamos do excellent work - "Tiny Alice" and "Seascape" at Hartford Stage, his "Butterfly" at City Opera, "Our Country's Good" years ago. All of the above-mentioned actors I've seen give fantastic performances. Granted, they're in previews now, but this "Cymbeline" looks under-rehearsed. There's no cohesion. The actors have that furtive 'where's the fire exit?' look in their eyes. And when good actors are uncomfortable, they dig into that bag of tricks to save their asses.

"Cymbeline" is tough to pull off - a delicate mix of high comedy, tragedy, fairy tale, poetry, song, myth, gore and a smidge of Celtic history. I've been fortunate enough to see two excellent productions of it in New York in the last few years - Bartlett Sher's Wild West production at Theatre for a New Audience, and Mark Rylance's stunning Globe production done at the Harvey at BAM. This is a play that if done right can move, mystify and transport.

The best explanation I can come up with is that the actors who are in it are top-notch, but not at this material. They seem disconnected from what they're saying. It's not that they don't know what they're saying - but they haven't found how to speak it in a way that puts it over. I couldn't even close my eyes and just enjoy the language because I couldn't hear it. The problematic Beaumont space doesn't help here. Neither does lousy amplification. Even Jonathan Cake in a towel didn't fix it for me. (That could be an expression, actually - "Jonathan Cake in a towel can't fix this for me.")

That said, Herb Foster in the small role of Dr. Cornelius, lands every time. I could actually feel my shoulders relax whenever he opened his mouth. He knows how to make the words do the work.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Weekend Full O' Culture

Saw "Carmen" at City Opera on Friday night. I love "Carmen." I love TDF. What I did not love was the woman behind me in the fourth ring humming off-key.

Sat I traveled with my friend Liz & her friend Maggie out to Barrington Stage to see my friend Vince wow 'em in "Fully Committed." It was so successful last winter they brought it back for a run on their new Mainstage space. Expected it to be wonderful, was not disappointed.

The new space in Pittsfield, by the way, is quite beautiful. We had a quick unofficial tour before the 4 PM curtain.

Hope the strike is over soon. In the meantime, I'm going to "Cymbeline."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tod Browning: Gifted Hack or Clumsy Maladroit Genius?

Watched “Freaks” last night, along with the DVD extras, like the 'making of' documentary. I'm a sucker for those DVD added features. Todd Robbins from Coney Island was one of the commentators, along with Jennifer Miller, the bearded lady from Circus Amok. Lots of historical background on the freaks in the movie, which was very interesting. I’ve seen several of Browning’s movies – “Dracula,” - who hasn't? - “The Unknown,” “The Mark of the Vampire,” “Freaks.”

They talked in the doc about Browning’s rocky relationship with talkies. He never really adjusted to them and was inept at directing dialogue. He was used to silents, where he could talk to the actors the whole time they were shooting. Unfortunately, most of his silents - like the Chaney "London After Midnight" - are lost.

I don’t know if Browning was a sloppy genius, or an incredibly gifted hack. There are always parts of his movies that just seem…bad. Parts of “Dracula” are bad. “Mark of the Vampire” is lame from start to finish. In parts of “Freaks,” the acting is atrocious and the script is feeble.

And yet, “Dracula,” “The Unknown,” and “Freaks” are movies I adore. There are moments in all of them that are so startling, so weird. The wedding feast scene, for example. That’s something you never forget - all of them banging on glasses with cutlery, chanting 'One of us! One of us! We accept you, one of us!" And then Olga Baclanova snaps the tether, throws wine at a dwarf and screams, "Freaks! FREAKS!"

And the final scenes of the freaks crawling, squirming through the mud, with knives in their teeth, creepy little eyes glinting under wagons, chasing Olga Baclanova through the rainy night. I mean, that’s intense stuff. The film is over 70 years old, and those scenes still unnerve me. It is definitely one of the strangest films ever made by an American studio.

Interesting bit of trivia in the documentary - Myrna Loy was supposed to play Cleopatra, the scheming femme fatale. She got the script and was horrified - begged Thalberg to release her from the job. Which he did.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

He's Fat, He's Ugly, and He's Rude

And besides that, he's fat.

Incredible, Astounding News!

Apparently some teenagers are continuing to have sex! Despite the fact that Republicans tell them not to! Read this jaw-dropping news!

Well, all I can say is, 141 million is a BARGAIN to discover this shocker/bombshell. Who would've seen that one coming?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Quote from Eva LeGallienne

"I hold the unpopular view that a really great talent cannot be stopped. I do not believe the woods are full of undiscovered geniuses." ---- from "With a Quiet Heart," 1953

What Did Netflix Bring Me This Week?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Best Ten Minute Plays, 2008

Good news. Smith & Kraus has made an offer to publish "A Funeral Home in Brooklyn" in the Best Ten Minute Plays, 2 Actors, 2008, out this winter. This will mark the second time I've had something published that was premiered by Blue Coyote (first was "Leaving Tangier" in 2004, the Sam French one-act series.) Above - Bob Buckwalter and Tracey Gilbert, in the first production of "Funeral Home" last Dec, part of the "Standards of Decency Project." It was directed by Kyle Ancowitz, who also directed my plays, "A Phone Call from Washington State, Late at Night" and "Saturday with Martin."

My Friend Sally in Cleveland Is a Really Great Medea

Just got back from Cleveland where my friend Sally Groth was finishing up her run as "Medea" in the Robinson Jeffers adaptation at Actors Summit in Hudson, OH. Saw it Friday and Saturday night. She was fantastic and the Cleveland Plain Dealer praised her to the skies. (The frightened looking woman behind her is the Nurse, Paula Duesling, another fine actress in the area.) The show closed yesterday, but you can read more about it here.

Besides playing Medea for four performances this weekend, she also made a great brunch - poached eggs on Swiss chard, fried green tomatoes, and biscuits with homemade apple butter. It's fun to go to the farmers' market with Medea!

Sally and her husband John have two beautiful pre-schoolers, Sam and Annie. No, they were not allowed to see Mommy in this one.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Food Fight Misanthrope

On my friend Katharine's rec, I got a cheap TDF ticket to see this last night at NYTW. I'd never seen Ivo Van Hove's work before, and let me tell you - that Dutch guy is nuts. Three parts genius, one part complete bullshit. Don't know how much it had to do with Moliere, but I'm glad I saw it.

Van Hove's production bursts into the dressing room, the street outside NYTW (What is that? Breaking the fifth and the sixth walls?) Parts are hilarious, parts are grim, parts are exhilarating and parts are - really loud and messy. I won't soon forget the sight of Bill Camp covered in chocolate, ketchup and watermelon. And I'm very happy I'm not on the production staff at NYTW to clean up that set every night.